Disability and social inequality in 21st Century Britain

Disability and social Inequality

Disability and social inequality in Britain

(6th richest nation in the World today).

What are the consequences of policies that are designed to help, but disadvantage, disabled people?

Currently there are approximately 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, 19% of whom are working aged adults, but less than half of which are in employment.

These figures show that inequality is rife and highlights the stark reality over the prejudices faced by many disabled people (Scope, 2019).

Social Inequality due to a disability is a huge problem for those effected. The issues behind the causes have hardly changed since the 19th century.

How is disability framed within our society?

Does this further marginalise them?

How does policy affect the educational attainments and employability of these individuals?

How do attitudes towards disabled people and social barriers severely impact onto the life course of disabled people; and ultimately lead to social inequality?

Many Politicians, such as Major and Blair, have “promised to create a classless society” (Bloodworth, 2019).

However, social divisions are still rife; and social inequality has reached unimaginable levels in our neo-liberal state.

Moreover, the very institutions charged with addressing this pervasive problem, are themselves instigating and manipulating moral panics, causing a deeper sense of division and stigmatisation as time goes on.

Our society is guilty of labelling people with a disability as being different. This attitude links them to negative stereotypes and creating a separation between the ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ beliefs.

T.V shows like Atypical are guilty of suggesting that all people with ‘x’ are the same. However they are similarly different as anyone else.

This characterisation ultimately leads on to these individuals facing much discrimination.

Disability and social Inequality

Historically, disability was framed by using a medicalized narrative.

This narrative perceived disability as something which should both be avoided and hidden away, or something which should somehow be cured.

Moreover, disability was viewed as either something to be pitied or something which was evil or sinister. Thus, there was an endemic fear that society could be contaminated by those afflicted by disability.

Therefore, framing disabled people as being ‘undeserving’ and as such not entitled to state assistance.

Ergo, drawing from Social Darwinism notions, which were rife in the 19th Century, eluded to pre-eugenic theories around natural selection and the survival of only the fittest.

Linking into Durkheim’s theory on the division of labour, and the enlightenment thought pertaining to “the logic and values of production”, precluded those with impairment from this social order.

Rendering disabled people as “inferior” thus subjecting them to further discrimination (Abberley, 1997). This attitude placed those with a disability as unequal, & implying a position of lower social status. This resulted in disabled people not being fully included in notions of citizenship in society.

A shift in attitudes towards the poor, brought about through the work of social investigators Seebohm Rowntree and Charles Booth, creating a shift away from Laissez-faire attitudes, a French term that translates to “leave alone”, but refers to an economic theory from the 18th century which opposes any government intervention in business matters.

This paved the way for social reforms, which treated the poor (including the disabled poor) in a kinder manner.

Advancements in human rights, and our understanding of the world, has brought forth the social model for a better understanding of disability, that we have today.

Undeniably, the social model of disability provides a challenge to the out-dated medical model, it hasn’t been that successful in addressing oppression, exclusion and inequality faced by disabled people today, due to a failure to recognise that biological, as well as social factors, impact on disability.

Undoubtedly, adjustments to this social model of disability, which would take into consideration the importance of impairment, are long overdue.

It is unsurprising, given the culture war that has been deliberately set off within the UK, that cultural representation has found itself excluded from the social model of disability.

Unfortunately, in a world where individualism has very much taken hold, this social model had led to further oppression and inequality, despite being designed to combat these very issues.

Government policies have failed to take into account the lived experiences of disabled people, but instead have created a narrative of these individuals being a burden on society.

UK Government policies hold the disabled back, retaining them in a position of social inequality.

Disability and social Inequality


The UK needs a New Political Party that will support & fight for the rights of our disabled people.

With thanks to Ms Karen Burns

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